Walking home the other day, I saw a new tattoo shop had opened up near my house. “Classy Tattoo Parlour”, the sign proclaimed in loud, all-caps serifed letters. Of course, it was in a strip mall, so even if it were the classiest joint in town, full of ladies in beehives smoking from mile-long cigarette holders and men in fine suits drinking scotch (it’s possible that “classy” and “debauchery” are confused in my mind), there’s something of a disconnect there.
It got me thinking about how often companies misrepresent themselves, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes accidentally. In a world where we all have less “face time” with companies—I’ve worked with all kinds of clients I’ve never met, and some whose locations I’m not sure about at all—it’s easy to see where our potential clients might not be as trusting of us as they ought to be. If a customer doesn’t trust a company, he’s unlikely to give the company any business.
So, how do you go about establishing your credibility?
1. Answer your emails, please!
This has got to be one of the most valuable things that you can do for your business, especially if your sales are mostly generated via the internet. Email is the method by which most clients will reach you, and if their first few questions go unanswered for lengthy periods of time, they’re going to think that this will always be the case. If you’re working with someone who’s halfway across the globe, email communication is suddenly tenfold more important, and if you don’t respond to your emails, your clients will simply assume that you’ve run away with their money and projects. I emailed a company a simple question about their product three days ago and have still heard nothing; at this point, I’m highly unlikely to purchase anything from them. Even a simple “we got your email, we’re looking into it, and we’ll be in touch soon” might have sufficed, but it’s simply irresponsible to ignore an email for any more than forty-eight hours.
2. Make it look, and sound, good.
Yes, it sounds self-serving for me to say this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Which of these two companies would you buy from?
That’s right. Professional design makes you look credible in the same way that spelling your words properly and using capitalization makes you look credible. Nobody wants to buy from a company that might just be a ten-year-old playing with his basement computer. If it looks like your website has been built with care and consideration (which typically, but not always, mandates a budget), people will be more likely to see your company as credible.
3. Give information.
A photograph of yourself will help, as will personal anecdotes. People are still highly social creatures, and we trust one another more if we get a feeling for one another. This is why my local clients like to have a face-to-face meeting to begin with, but then are comfortable with email-only communications. North Americans are quite brusque about our social connections, but in a great number of other cultures, it’s commonplace to develop a social relationship with a person—going for coffee and dinner several times—prior to even discussing business.
4. Show how much people love you.
Testimonials work, and they’re vital if you’re running a business online. It can be challenging collecting positive references from past clients, even those who were thrilled with your work, but your persistence will pay off. Use them in as many places as you can. Put one in your sidebar somewhere, and make sure it randomly loads a new one every new page. Insert them into blog posts, or project or product descriptions where appropriate. Have a whole page full of all of them—people tend to notice testimonials more when they’re included on other pages—but there’s nothing quite like a great big list of your clients singing your praises.
5. Be involved.
Write a blog. Beyond boosting your search engine rankings, which everyone loves so much, it will also help to establish you as a credible source who knows your stuff. Read everything you can, and get involved with industry forums or mailing lists. Write articles of interest for other publications. Teach a class at your local business centre or free-school. Present at conferences and unconferences. Answer people’s questions on Twitter.
In short, anything you can do to show that you’re helpful and knowledgable will help. Learn to communicate well, make sure everything that you put out is polished, and you’re on your way!